Creative Clusters are now at the the heart of new funding for the Creative Industries in the UK. As was pointed out in the previous blog on opportunities for investors, there will be more money at seed level i.e. up to £50,000 for new creative projects in the coming three years. However, the vast majority of these funds will be focused on existing creative clusters as defined by NESTA research and the AHRC Creative Clusters Programme.
Therefore, the vast majority of the UK is not seen to have a creative cluster by current definitions.
This begs the questions what happens if you are not in a recognised cluster, and how will freelancers and micro-companies (over 90% of the Creative Industries) benefit from a programme, which largely excludes them by definition. This latter point stems from the lack of information in government statistics on creative freelancers and micr0-companies.
The answer lies in a three tier approach for creatives, universities, local authorities and LEPs working up their own Creative Cluster.
Why build a creative Cluster?
Apart from a desire to join the likely recipients of new monies, the bigger argument rests on the need to create more local employment, boost the income of many small creative companies and participate in what is the fastest growing part of the UK economy. In addition, it is clear as automation hits transport, manufacturing, and distribution the creative industries is one of the key areas where work will still be dominated by human activity.
In this context it makes sense for everyone with a role to play in building creative clusters to play their part.
The key starting point is to discover the creatives on your doorstep. You may be in a local creative MeetUp. However, it is probably based on a particular skill or shared interest. This probably means you do not know about different creative groups, who meet in the same town/area and share the same issues/needs as you. Needs which could be met by an active creative cluster. So connecting up with other creatives means you could not only help each other but also ask for effective support.
Local government is hampered in having any effective creative cluster support owing to a general lack of information/statistics on creative activity in their area. This has been partially overcome by the recent Nesta interactive infographic. This incorporates the latest government statistics (sometimes only as late as 2014) and their Creative Nation work also incorporates MeetUps and some other sources.
In 2007 Westminster City Council undertook a survey of their area and discovered a vast unrecognised creative economy, which they had to date not realised was so important to the area. A general awareness has now been created across the UK of the importance of the creative industries with some LEPs, and Mayors, in particular, taking a lead. Despite this change the issue remains the invisible nature of creatives in local economies from craft creators to photographers, and indie games developers.
Therefore, there is an urgent need for local government organisations to undertake local creative economy surveys, and build a clear up to date picture of the creative activity in their area. With this knowledge effective policy and investment plans can be made and a clear sense of the creative cluster developed.
The CIF Freelance survey and the Brighton FUSE 2 report identified the fact that creatives need a number of specific business needs. These range from access to finance to legal advice, and workspaces. Creating these tailored services could be undertaken by Universities and local government or LEPs, thus ensuring that when new products and creative opportunities arise they do not flounder owing to a lack of basic business knowledge and support.
Note, that in some cases this may mean an active support structure not just expecting creatives to suddenly turn into pro-active entrepreneurs overnight. Remembering also being creative does not necessarily mean being able to pitch or work out a business plan.
In terms of sustaining the local creative clusters FE colleges and schools can play an active part in promoting creative skills, supporting new talent and networking with national and local skills services. This work is currently being focused on by the Creative Industries Federation(CIF) and Creative Skillset.
Much of freelance creative work, beyond service contracts, is self-financing. Access to finance for freelancers and micro-companies, who want to develop their own work and not just work from one commission to the next is very difficult as indicated in numerous research projects – see above. Therefore the creation of a local investment community focused on creative products and activity will play a vital part in growing local creative clusters. The problems associated with this have been addressed in ‘New Funding for Creatives‘.
In this context the development of a Creative Investment Forum is critical to the long term sustainability of any creative cluster. The aim of the Forum will be to educate local business angels in the investment opportunities provided by the creative industries in their area.
Opportunities which will be enhanced by the increase in public sector ‘seed’ funding, the local creative support network, the active participation of local organisations, plus the predicted increase in growth, and value, of the sector over the next five years. Obviously there are the tax benefits of SEIS/EIS activity, and the increased R&D tax credits available to creative activity. However, in addition, as part of the government’s Creative Industries Sector Deal, there is a stated ambition to create a new Angels co-pro fund to match local investments outside of London.
Looking to the Future
It is clear that these three tiers of activity cannot be undertaken overnight. However, if organisations and creatives start on surveying the local creative activity, and build towards organising Investment Forums over a twelve month period a new local creative cluster could be active and successful.
The opportunities exist – the question now is which areas, cities, or towns will join the fastest growing part of the UK economy?